Haiti, South Asia cholera similar
The cholera strain that has claimed more than 4 500 lives in Haiti closely resembles strains currently circulating in South Asia, a United Nations report has found.
The investigation followed accusations that UN peacekeepers from Nepal had introduced the disease into Haiti, prompting violent anti-UN riots. The accusations had been denied by UN and Nepalese officials.
The UN said the report did “not present any conclusive scientific evidence” of a link to the peacekeepers. The panel said a “confluence of circumstances” were involved in the outbreak.
The epidemic, which started 10 months after Haiti’s devastating earthquake in January 2010, has sickened almost 300 000 people, the report says.
UN investigators say the epidemic was caused by bacteria introduced to Haiti as a result of “human activity”, pointing specifically to the contamination of the Meye tributary system, near the Mirebalais camp housing Nepalese peacekeepers.
The UN had previously described reports that human faecal waste from the camp had caused the outbreak by leaking into river systems as “rumours”, saying sanitary conditions for Nepalese peacekeepers were adequate.
The panel now finds that sanitary conditions at the base, “were not sufficient to prevent contamination” of the river system.
The panel experts called for UN peacekeepers travelling from cholera-endemic countries to be screened for the disease and to receive prophylactic antibiotics before their departure.
The investigators also recommended UN installations worldwide treat faecal waste using on-site systems to “inactivate pathogens before disposal”.
They say the Artibonite river’s canal system and delta “provide optimal environmental conditions for the rapid proliferation” of cholera.
Experts point to deficiencies in the healthcare, water and sanitation systems in Haiti, saying without these factors “environmental contamination with faeces could not have been the source of such an outbreak”.
Further, Haitians lack immunity to the disease which has been absent from the country for nearly a century, they say.
The results come as medical aid groups in the country raise concerns of a new surge of the disease as the spring rainy season begins. (BBC)